Doctor of Philosophy
This dissertation analyzes nation-building in hitherto ungoverned territories of two Indian chhitmahals in Bangladesh and explores the transformation of their residents from stateless Indian nationals to citizens of Bangladesh. Chhitmahals comprised nearly two hundred enclaves located along the Bangladesh-India border that belonged to one country but were located inside another’s territory. Chhitmahals came into existence with the partition of India in 1947; their non-contiguous locations kept them without state administration and citizenship rights. People developed political councils and adopted illicit practices to survive in the absence of the state, but the impossibility of exercising sovereignty in chhitmahals led Bangladesh and India to swap enclave territories in 2015. Ensuing nation-building projects reformulated the sociopolitical landscape while ordinary individuals embraced citizenship as a tool to realize diverse aspirations. Citizenship fuelled a sense of empowerment to normalize previously illicit everyday practices, contest local hierarchies, confront powerful neighbors, cultivate political connections, and make claims on the state. Access to boundaryless opportunities broke down the façade of common interest that prevailed in the stateless era. Viewed from a legal perspective, citizenship in chhitmahals might conjure images of a nation with paved roads, police stations, and other administrative services and infrastructure. An anthropological lens, however, reveals a reconfigured community that no longer finds normalcy and affluence in the traditional practices of livelihood, ethics, and leadership that were dominant before the merger with the enveloping state. Instead, clientelist party politics set the terms for the realization of aims. The implications of this reconfiguration were mixed and differed according to gender, generation, access to new media, and party affiliation. The emerging significance of these factors enabled citizenship’s cultural and political effects to gradually overshadow its legal meaning. Citizenship is now a malleable concept in chhitmahals that has departed from the originally egalitarian goals of normalization.
Summary for Lay Audience
The colonial process of partitioning India in 1947 created nearly two hundred enclaves across the new border between India and Bangladesh (previously East Pakistan). These enclaves were territories (chhitmahals) that belonged to one country but were located inside the other’s borders. Neither country could administer and provide necessities to the enclaves because of their non-contiguous locations. This failure eventually led Bangladesh and India to swap enclaves in 2015. This dissertation explores the changes new citizenship has brought about in two formerly Indian enclaves that had been deprived of state services since the partition. Prior to the swap, enclave residents developed their own administrative councils to improve their living conditions but could not completely eradicate the hardship of statelessness. They also gradually built informal socioeconomic relations with the surrounding Bangladeshi state and its citizens. These connections were important to local subsistence but still could not ensure life and livelihood security in the absence of law and civic administration. These shortcomings ultimately strengthened the ground for the enclave-swap between India and Bangladesh. Based upon fieldwork in two former enclaves, I examine post-swap government programs in these enclaves and show that residents’ new citizenship status resolved many crises of the stateless era but simultaneously introduced some unprecedented problems. Infrastructure and bureaucratic projects strengthened economic networks, introduced stable administration and ensured fundamental human rights. Despite these changes, however, ordinary people failed to achieve anticipated material progress. These projects also led to the introduction of a new form of party politics that replaced accustomed leadership hierarchies and codes of ethics. Power and authority shifted from one set of elites to a new one, and transactional politics deepened and sometimes shifted local inequalities. Differences of generation and gender were also prominent: youths’ use of new media extended their horizons and reach beyond roads and paperwork; women’s progress was slow but also remarkable. The emerging significance of these factors enabled citizenship’s cultural and political effects to gradually overshadow its legal meaning. Citizenship has become a malleable concept in former chhitmahals and the consequences of the swap have gone far beyond the original goals of normalization.
Rashedul Alam, Md, "From Stateless People to Citizens: The Reformulation of Territory and Identity in India-Bangladesh Border Enclaves" (2021). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 7666.
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